Depth of field as post-processing

Although it is quite easy to use it in an ‘extreme’ way, DOF could be very useful sometimes for isolating the subject.
Rendering DOF in a scene during the ‘native’ process – although this could result the best quality – is very time-consuming.
That is the reason why in CGI it used to be replaced with rendering a Z-depth pass and then using the depth information to achieve the effect.
In case of rendering stills, we have several options to make this composited result.

1. Photoshop has a built-in Lens Blur filter with a decent result as output (not ‘outstanding’, but fair enough).

Cons:

– Photoshop is pricey

Pros:

– It comes for free with PS

2. Blender Compositor gives us this post-processing effect with nodes

Cons:

– It is slow
– It is an additional ‘element’ in the pipeline so it is not so comfortable to use

Pros:

– It is free
– It results affordable quality

3. DOF PRO for Photoshop

Cons:

– It is slow like hell (previewing is extremely slow, too)
– It doesn’t support 64 bit versions of PS
– I was not able to run it under other hosts (I tried some like PhotoPlus, no luck)
– It is pricey (USD 100) for a single filter
– GUI is outdated

Pros:

– Image quality
– Supports image sequences without additional costs

4. LensCare gives great speed and awesome quality with some compromises:

Cons:

– The workflow is extremely stupid (I’m not kidding, I was shocked, how idiotic it is).
– The built-in ‘reversing’ function of the Z-depth image resulted image errors on my sample render
– it is pricey, too (USD 89) for a single plugin (After Effects version comes separately and for additional fee, what sucks)

Pros:

– Image quality is great
– It is fast (beats everything in speed)
– Has a version for After Effects (although that is a different product)

5. Serif PhotoPlus offers a built-in Depth of Field filter

Cons:

-It doesn’t worth a penny. Crap. Piece of shit. (I’m talking about the built-in plugin, not the app itself!)

Pro:

– PhotoPlus could handle some of the PS plugins and LenscCare works on PhotoPlus
– PhotoPlus is the only affordable PS alternative for indies I saw until this time; even with buying LensCare it is far-far cheaper than PS itself and results better quality output

6. GIMP has a free plugin called Focus Blur

Cons:

– It is a GIMP filter and GIMP is something what I hate by heart for its GUI
– No previewing for the settings (one of the reasons why I hate GIMP)

Pros:

– affordable quality
– it is free

Conversations – archviz in the past and now

I had some conversations with other CGI experts, related to visualisation trends and apps in the last weeks.
I have to say that it was a good feeling that we agreed in many things.

Archviz went back to the era without 3d modeling and rendering.

In those times architects used pencils, inks and produced ‘moods’ instead of exact and realistic drawings to present their plans to the clients.

Today it is the almost same. We both saw very ‘high-rated’  renderings which had nothing to do with a correct/expected presentation of a building.
Extreme usage of DOF, focusing on non-relevant parts, extreme amount of CA & vignette, over-saturated colors, massive post-processing instead of setting up the scene properly.
Instagram-visualisations for the PS-generation.

And – this is the sad part of the story – we both have to do the same, to fulfill the expectations.
I turned my personal portfolio to this kind of over-processed stuff (after having some talk with some potential employer who lacked these from my portfolio).
I test these ‘post-processing’ effects in the apps I try (although I think that it is better to have an unused/rarely used feature – requested by the market – than not if it is a need from the users of an app).

Cinematic quality/weather conditions

We both agreed that cinematic quality as an output is a nonsense if we talk about archviz. Again, it is not about the quality of the materials or the quality of the model. It is about the efforts; the time of the rendering and post-processing, the style of an animation and so on. The required time and energy for a cinematic quality render could be huge and not necessary to present a building properly.
The task is to present a building, to offer as much information as possible for the client.
We were talking about the ‘fashion’ of  the ‘bad weather’ renderings. In almost 20 years I was never asked to render any rainy scene. I was asked to render day/night scenes, sometimes kind of shadow (lighting) studies, but no rain at all. I was asked to change the people on the pictures to ‘supermodels’ (I completely disagreed with this), rotate to sun to show always a ‘happy, sunny lighting’, but I never, NEVER was asked to make any rainy scenerio (although I could completely accept if the clients in England require it).

Wasting resources

If I wanted to determine my definition about archviz, it would be like this: ‘To achieve the best necessary quality within the less time and effort.’
And the ‘necessary’ part should come from smart people, not from the market.
Something is definitely wrong with the way of the brain of the ‘crowd’ operates.
Let me to say it in a different way: the ‘Goodfather’ is a great movie, even watched on a VHS video player.
The movie ‘Avatar’ or the most of the hundred million dollar blockbusters  are sucks, even in 4K.

So back to archviz:

A good architectural visualisation starts with a good plan of a good architect.
A good presentation for me – as a customer – is about things that matter to me. And it is not about the wonderfully animated leaves in the wind, the climbing ant on the bark of a tree or the vignette/CA in the corners.
It is about representing the real building with its real materials and its real ambiance.
It is about targeting the human-eye equivalent FOV (because I will be disappointed after facing to the IRL size of a room after watchimg a wide-angle render) instead of pentagon-shaped bokeh (what is something my eyes never produce).
It is about lighting what doesn’t fool me and shows me if there is a skyscraper in the neighborhood  what casts shadows to my ‘future’ office/apartment for a significant time of the day.

Archviz should be about reality, but in important details.
So wasting energy on unnecessary things should be not OK for anyone who thinks that sustainability and environment protection is a good idea.
That is one of the reasons why I support real-time archviz solutions like Lumion3D; that is why I think that virtual reality could be an ultimate tool for archviz.
It could show everything, what is important with a limited environmental footprint.
And as a former render-farm owner and a person who was working on sustainable projects a lot I have to say that RT archviz is a big step forward.

The image quality with ‘classic’ rendering engines fit archviz needs since years, now we should focus on the speed instead of adding unnecessary ‘realism’.
Of course it is a personal opinion and I know that people love their unnecessary Retina Displays in their iPhone or the zillion megapixels in their cellphones on a fly-shit-sized sensor, so I have doubts.
We will see.

Alternatives to Adobe Photoshop

OK, the title is a lie.
All things considered there are no alternatives to PS at all.
But for working in RGB there are several options.

I made my last ‘2D graphics apps test ‘ 2 years ago, mainly focused on RAW converting (I choosed and bought ACDSee Pro), but I found a pretty usable app, called Serif PhotoPlus.
It has similar GUI and features like PS has.

Serif offers a free version of the app with limited functionality (which is still pretty usable for retouching).

Unfortunately there is no trial version of the full app, but I had a chance to take a look on it and as far as I know, this is the only 2D app on Win which has comparable  layer functions and operations to PS.
Of course it was slower than PS, but still was more usable than Corel Paint Shop Pro.
It only costs 85 EUR, which is quite acceptable.

By the way, the lack of the full app trial and the stupid way of downloading the free app (you have to register, etc.) deserved to put Serif (as a developer) to the ironic ‘How to develop an app’ posts soon.
On Mac it worth to give a try to Pixelmator (I will check it when I will have access to Macs again; I heard good things about this one), and soon I will try PS Elements again (I have an old one; I’m curious what has changed).

Maybe you are surprised that I don’t consider GIMP as a choice; well, although I use it a lot, I don’t like it at all.
It needs recoding and GUI change, too (in my opinion).

2 in 1: Particle tree in Blender + NeatVideo noise removal test

Some month ago I played with particle-based trees in Max and Unity for a more identical output result (using different vegetation for classic renders and real-time engines is not so ‘nice’).
At the end I went with another method, but it was interesting, so I decided to give a try for particle trees in Blender.
As you see, it is possible.

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A recommended RAW converter – RawTherapee

For this post  about noise removing (Reducing render times in Cycles – Noise filtering) I used the trial version of NeatImage.

Now I would like to recommend you a free app, called RawTherapee, which is primarly developed for photographers to enhance their photos, but could do the noise filtering for rendered images, too (of course).
As a photographer I have to say that it is quite OK, even compared to commercial apps.

Reducing render times in Cycles – Noise filtering

I just made a small comparison of rendered images in Cycles with different sample values, then I used NeatImage Standalone demo to remove noise with different settings (you can recognize that I used stronger reduction on the 300 samples image, so details are more ‘washed out’).
Although worrying too much about ‘noise’ is mostly typical for the ‘tech-maniac type’  CGI or photography guys, I think it could show the power of noise-filtering as a post-processing step and it could be useful for everybody.
It doesn’t just saves time; it also saves electricity (it has effects on your budget and on the environment both).

Notes:

– download the images and compare them in 1:1 ratio (on the native resolution of your screen)
– I didn’t used any filtering on the 500 sample render; I used it as a reference
– removing the noise in NeatImage required about 15-20 sec per image (could be batched).

originals

Originals

Filtered with NeatImage

Filtered with NeatImage

10 things you will like in Blender – 2/10.

It has a versatile node editor for compositing and materials

Compositing features

Generating stills for a client in archviz most of the times requires rendering different passes out (combined, ambient occlusion, z-depth) with transparent background. The usual work-flow is to import these images into a 2D image editor like PhotoShop, PhotoPlus or Gimp and then putting them together with layers, removing artifacts if there are any, adding a nice background, adding small details if needed (like more people, plants, birds) and also adding some special effects (like flares, bloom, lens effect) and image enhancements.
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